Seven unanswered goals in the back half of the third quarter saw Melbourne take a commanding lead over the Western Bulldogs in an incredible Grand Final.
The Demons (first in home and away season, def Brisbane and Geelong in finals) haven’t won a VFL-AFL flag since 1964.
Melbourne’s 57-year premiership drought is the fourth-longest in league history, behind those of the Swans (1934-2005), Saints (1897-1966, two inactive years due to WWI excluded) and Bulldogs (1955-2016).
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The Bulldogs (fifth in home and away season, def Essendon, Brisbane and Port Adelaide in finals) are trying to become the second team to win the flag from outside the top four under the current finals format.
They were the first to do it, back in 2016, having won three consecutive finals outside of Victoria and now needing to win a fourth.
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LIVE MATCH REPORT
Melbourne coach Simon Goodwin confirmed James Jordon would be the team’s medical sub.
“It’ll be JJ,” Goodwin told Fox Footy. “He’s been our sub for the last four weeks, he’s had a fantastic season. He’s a young player that can play multiple roles.”
Laitham Vandermeer, the match-winner in the semi-final who was dropped on Thursday, earned a reprieve as the Bulldogs’ medical sub.
The Bulldogs got the first inside 50, but the Demons had the first score, as after Bailey Dale kicked it out on the full, Alex Neal-Bullen’s set shot free kick just fell short and was rushed through.
Ben Brown then marked with no-one near him inside 50, but sprayed the set shot to the left.
“Melbourne are brutal early. Their tackling is outstanding,” Matthew Lloyd said on 3AW.
Off a step from some 50 metres out, Christian Petracca banged home the first goal of the Grand Final.
Josh Schache nearly snapped one for the Dogs moments later but it fell just short and Cody Weightman slammed into the goalpost trying to mark it.
The Demons went up the other end and saw Bayley Fritsch mark essentially on the goalline, going back and kicking their second for an early 13-point lead.
Roarke Smith got out the back of a marking contest to kick the Bulldogs’ first goal 16 minutes into the game.
But the Dees’ intense forward pressure forced Bailey Williams and co. to turn the ball over, earning Charlie Spargo a major; it summed up the game, with the minor premiers looking good under pressure, and the Dogs stumbling.
The Dogs’ nervy start reached fever pitch when Williams dropped a mark in his defensive 50 and Fritsch snapped it up for his second goal of the term, putting the Demons up 19 points.
A few more behinds pushed Melbourne out to 4.5 (29) to 1.2 (8) lead at quarter-time, having had almost total control of the game thus far.
The Dogs got the start they needed to the second term, earning a quick clearance and getting the ball forward, with Adam Treloar cleaning up after the ball was brought to ground for his first major.
Then after Clayton Oliver missed a snap in a very similar situation up the other end, the Bulldogs rebounded and again Treloar was able to snap a goal.
Remarkably Treloar then got involved again, this in the middle with a centre clearance that allowed Aaron Naughton to goal; suddenly the margin was back to four points.
The Demons needed a steadier and got it through a strong Ben Brown mark in front of a busy contest, and a straight set shot.
Max Gawn thought he’d kicked a goal from a tight set shot – and was confused when the game wasn’t stopped for a goal review – but the Demons captain was left unhappy.
There was plenty of debate as to whether it was a goal especially after a reverse angle from the crowd spread on social media.
The opposing skipper found more joy as Marcus Bontempelli held on for a strong contested mark and kicked the goal, and the margin was four points once again.
Then after Lachie Hunter was caught high in a tackle by Spargo, he went back and kicked the goal that put the Bulldogs in front for the first time on the night.
It wasn’t exactly luck that saw the Dogs ahead, but remarkable efficiency, with 5.1 from six inside 50s – against the best defence for defending inside 50s ever recorded.
Bontempelli capped off a remarkable quarter for the Dogs with his second goal in the final seconds, and they led 7.5 (47) to 5.9 (39) at halftime.
Caleb Daniel had an unbelievable 26 disposals at halftime; the Grand Final record for a full game is 39 by Brisbane’s Simon Black.
“It feels as if Bevo (Luke Beveridge) had a word to them (at quarter-time) and said ‘boys let’s just calm down’,” Jonathan Brown said on Fox Footy.
Nick Riewoldt added: “The Dogs looked jittery in the first term. They were a little bit spooked by the pressure the Dees were bringing and it looked like they were spooked about the set-up of Melbourne behind the ball. They couldn’t find a way to penetrate and score.
“But in the second quarter, every time they went forward against this Melbourne defence that’s been impenetrable, they were more composed. They were able to find a way to create 50-50 contests where Melbourne just weren’t able to back towards the other end of the ground. An incredible fightback.”
An enormous grab on the goalline from Jason Johannisen saw him kick the second half’s first major, extending the Bulldogs’ lead to 13 points.
The Dogs managed to slow the game down in the next patch of play, taking 22 uncontested marks to the Demons’ one.
Bontempelli’s third goal of the night capped off their period of dominance and suddenly a 19-point lead began to look difficult for Melbourne to overcome.
But Bayley Fritsch decided this Grand Final wasn’t over yet, kicking truly after a nice mark on the lead, and seconds later adding his fourth goal after crumbling perfectly.
Those majors seemed to inspire his Demons teammates, with Ben Brown quickly kicking his second goal of the night and cutting the margin to a solitary point.
When Angus Brayshaw got on the end of a Jake Bowey chip and kicked truly, Melbourne was back on top, thanks to four goals in nine minutes.
But that was nothing compared to the last minute or so of the quarter.
First Petracca dribbled home a stunning goal. Then Tom Sparrow banged one home from over 50 metres out, with Tom McDonald blocking it across the line.
Clayton Oliver capped off a premiership-winning period with a running major in the final seconds, putting Melbourne up 13.11 (83) to 9.5 (59) at three-quarter-time.
“That’s probably the best 17 minutes in the Dees’ history,” James Brayshaw said on Seven.
When Ben Brown goalled to begin the fourth term, and Bayley Fritsch added a fifth major, the game appeared over.
By the time Alex Neal-Bullen and Ed Langdon added the Demons’ 10th and 11th consecutive goals, it was party time.
The game is being played at Perth’s Optus Stadium, the second consecutive Grand Final played away from the MCG due to a lockdown in Victoria.
The Grand Final began at 7:15pm AEST/5:15pm AWST.
Watch the best halftime and post-game analysis on Fox Footy (channel 504), or stream it on Kayo.
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